At the fringes of civilisation

At the fringes of civilisation

Halakki vokkaligaru is a tribe that consists of members who live in groups in the fringes of forests of districts like Uttara Kannada, Shimoga and Dakshina Kannada.They are among the most prominent tribes in Karnataka and are even considered as the aboriginals of the state.

These tribes are known for their traditional lifestyle. They are divided into different groups, depending on where they live. Their leaders are called gowda or buddhvant. Leadership is mostly hereditary, but during disputes, winner of a hunting contest is elected as the leader.

They live in mud houses with their roofs covered with coconut or palm leaves. Most families seem to be influenced by Hindu traditions – they have tulasi plants around the house, worship Hindu gods and goddesses and also celebrate popular festivals. The Hindu influence is very prominent in the halakki koppas or settlements.

The halakki vokkaligas are known for their distinct attire and jewellery. Their jewellery includes beads, necklaces, nose rings and bangles that are mostly made of stones and natural fibre. They wear short sarees without a blouse and also wear elegant dresses with their bare backs showing. Women complete this look with bright-coloured flowers in their hair.

Their clothes are designed to help them adapt to the climate and work with ease. However, the only people wearing them now are those above 50. With the number of people donning traditional attire decreasing by the day, this may be the last generation of women to wear them, unless ethnic fashion designers save them for posterity.
“These are the last group of women you will see in such dresses. In five years, you will not find a single person wearing them,” says Choudappa, a senior member of the tribe. Traditional attire has not been taken up by the younger generation. In fact, you will find the tribal boys in jeans and t-shirts and the girls in salwar kameez today.

Even their traditional practices have changed. Earlier, when a boy came of age, his parents would select a girl and pitch a tent in front of her house till she agreed. Now, there are online matrimonial ads looking for halakki brides and grooms.
Language, eating practices, celebratory rituals and hobbies – every aspect of their lives has changed or even disappeared completely. They are considered to be out of tune with the modern world and are hence, disappearing into oblivion.

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